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After 20 years with Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS), the agency’s Director of Service Delivery Donna Bent says it’s time to retire and find new ways to fulfill her calling to community service.

The local community service leader is saying goodbye to the organization after two decades of service. She began working with SSCS in December 2000, as a casual residential care worker, and over the next several years, took on a range of community and outreach roles before becoming the organization’s Manager of Community Living Services and, in 2017, Director of Community Living Services. She transitioned into the role of Director of Service Delivery in 2019.

“My heart has always been in direct service,” says Donna about making the move from direct service in community to the organization’s leadership team. “When I went into management, I wanted to be able to advocate on a different level for individuals, and that’s been a huge privilege for me.”

New group home – Harmony House – opens in Squamish

Donna’s commitment to direct service is reflected in her most recent major accomplishment – the opening of the new Harmony House group home to support adults with developmental disabilities. Until September 2020, Squamish had only one group home in the community – Newport House, also operated by SSCS.

When we as parents decide to have a family, we understand that the natural progression is that our children will grow and eventually leave home,” says Donna. “However, when you have an adult with a developmental disability, sometimes that progression may look different or even change. Perhaps, for example, some will not be able to leave home without much needed supports. I’ve met with a lot of families over the years that need these supports as a result. This new residential group home is an avenue to provide this much needed support for the Sea to Sky Corridor. We have had a vision to open a second group home for several years, and now, that vision has come to fruition.”

Donna emphasizes that these group homes are not institutions. “These are family homes, and we are guests in their home. Our staff assist residents in having that level of independence.” Donna notes that residents of Harmony House are all younger adults who grew up in the Corridor, and the new home now makes it possible for some of the new residents to move back to Squamish, where their families still live.

Harmony House resident parent Heather Bauer says the new home has made it possible for her son to move back home to Squamish. “There were no new group homes in Squamish, so we were forced to take him to North Vancouver where he’d been for the past two and a half years,” says Heather. “It’s so nice to have him home – it’s more accessible for us, and he’s happier because he’s friends with the people who live there.”

Donna says the new Harmony House group home was made possible with funding from and in partnership with Community Living BC, and with the support of generous donors, and will be operated by SSCS. “We are so grateful to have strong relationships with our funders, and those have been developed over many years.”

Dedication to ‘servant leadership’ at SSCS

As they reflect on her approaching retirement at the end of October, Donna’s colleagues are celebrating her leadership style, which they say is centered in mentorship, professionalism and – most importantly – heart.

“She’s always been a constant in our organization – reliable, supportive, compassionate and genuine,” says Human Resources Director Laura Arason. “She’s the real deal, and for Donna, it all comes down to heart.”

Associate Director of Service Delivery Chelsie Brubacher agrees. “I respect her ability to be the calm in the storm. She’ll ask inquisitive questions to get to the heart of the matter, and compassionately lead you to where you need to go. Her person-centered approach always brings us back to why we do what we do, and we’ll keep that spirit alive after she leaves SSCS.”

Donna says she’s always been committed to a ‘servant’ style of leadership. “I want to empower people – whether it’s our staff or the people we serve – to be the best they can be. The idea that we need each other – whether it’s staff or community – is so important to me.”

“She was always one to guide,” says Gina Dean, SSCS’s current Manager of Community Living Services. “She’s led me to achieve what I wanted to achieve in the community and she’s always willing to support you, to push you gently so you can challenge yourself.”

“Community service has been her life’s purpose – it’s her calling”, says Jaye Russell, SSCS’s Executive Director. “Her legacy at SSCS is strong and reflected in the care and compassion of our team, and the people she has touched in the community – we wish her all the best.”

Donna says that her coworkers and staff have inspired her as they’ve risen to the occasion, time and time again, to meet the growing needs of communities in the Corridor, and to address major challenges to their work presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want you to know that I see you in the work, I see the challenges and the struggles, and I also see you rising to the occasion,” says Donna. “I see people making a difference in peoples’ lives and changing peoples’ lives.”

Donna also encourages her team to share the stories of success and accomplishments. “We don’t talk enough about that,” she says. “There’s always going to be challenges, but we need to talk about that. Let’s talk about the good things, too.”

Jaye Russell agrees. “There’s so many remarkable stories that need to be told about the impact Donna and her team have in this community – like listening to the expectant mother who’s worrying about giving birth in a hospital during COVID-19, or checking in with a senior who’s been too isolated lately, or helping a new resident move into their new home at Harmony House,” says Jaye. “We need to take time to celebrate how our incredible staff are helping to make lives better for people in the Corridor.”

‘We need each other’ – support SSCS

Donna says that while SSCS will always be there for the community, the organization also needs the community to support the organization, and each other. “It’s not just the work that we do or that our funding partners do. It’s our community standing up and saying that we’re going to help each other and support each other. To our community members, I want you to know that I see you, too.”

“While some of us have been able to change the way we work with video calls and technology, many people in the Sea to Sky Corridor have lost their jobs, and we’re feeling that economic hit in every community”, said Jaye. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the generosity of donors who have the means to help during this time. And with your help, we’ll continue to be there for members of this community, for as long as you need us.”